Pariah Movie Review

Adepero Oduye in 'Pariah'
Adepero Oduye in 'Pariah' - © Focus Features
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, SoberingConclusion

Unlike Scott Pilgrim’s guesses, when talking about writer/director Dee Rees’ film Pariah, the L word is actually a reference to lesbians.

Starring Adepero Oduye as Alike, the movie deals with the struggle she has in admitting her sexuality to parents who don’t want to hear the truth and find homosexuality to be against their beliefs – religiously and culturally. Alike also has to find the strength within to accept herself in spite of what other people do and say about it. An aspiring writer, she finds solace in expressing her emotions via poetry, which of course is informed through her experiences with first love, friends and family.

Oduye is heart-breaking in the role, making Alike’s journey feel intimate and sincere. No matter your sexuality, the journey from adolescence into adulthood is fraught with situations and instances that magnify one’s insecurities and force conflict; the person you’ll be is shaped in that process. Wanting to be accepted is natural, understanding that accepting yourself is the only necessary step is hard.

All of this is there in Oduye’s performance and Rees’ script, both of which exhibit the kind of vulnerability few films managed to do each year. The supporting cast also do their part, filling the film with characters that seem ripped out of real life and are free of the artifice so often injected into mainstream cinema. Sure, everyone is a recognizable archetype and for all intents and purposes, this isn’t breaking new ground. But that doesn’t lessen the impact of Alike’s story and this film speaks to the notion that the people who truly love and understand you will do so unconditionally, even if it takes some time.

And don’t get caught up in some of the comparisons to Precious circulating in the ether. While both films deal with black women in New York looking for acceptance, the similarities end there. It’s like comparing Woody Allen to Martin Scorsese. Both often deal with white men in New York but I doubt anyone confuses the pair’s canon. All that I take out of such talk is that there aren’t enough movies being released nationally that deal with black culture in such a frank manner. (So get on it distributors.)

Pariah is an honest portrait of subject matter just beginning to be discussed openly. It’s a part of the cinematic movement to let voices be heard that have been silent too long. While not everyone will resonate emotionally or culturally with the characters, what’s important is that it finds those out there who need to see that being true to one’s self is the only way to find true happiness.

It’s sappy to say such a thing but seeing a story like this reminds those of us not pressured by others’ expectations that not everyone is so lucky. This isn’t a perfect movie, in terms of filmmaking and technical elements, but what’s most important is that it has heart and a real story to convey … something too many other films fail to understand.


Pariah is rated R for sexual content and language.